What miracles will the incoming 44th President of the United States perform?
With 30 Days in the Wilderness (some call it the Bush) to go before the inauguration on Jan. 20, Timeout asked some of the JT’s finest to share what they hope for, expect and fear from the Brave New World of Barack Obama.
Here, in alphabetical order by second name, are the dreams and divinations of our handpicked team — some of whom were not previously world-renowned political commentators.
I never have any cash, and normally spend my weekends in the Tokyo locales of Asakusa, Nezu and Ueno, side-stepping aging transexual prostitutes in sleazy cinemas, pulling drunk old men out of gutters, playing the horses and chatting to hoods, hosts and courtesans. For lowlifes like me, nothing will change whether it’s Bush, Obama or Ronald McDonald (he might be good), as we’re “below,” or perhaps “above,” all of that politics crap.
But maybe Obama should have Bush executed for his crimes against humanity, and post it on YouTube for all to see a la Saddam. What comes round . . . Also, perhaps Obama should invade a country worth invading such as North Korea, which threatens to blow Japan back to the Stone Age (and possibly could), rather than another (oil-rich) Iraq armed with fictitious weapons of mass destruction. But ideally, Obama won’t invade anywhere, and also I hope he will pull all U.S. troops out of Japan. Then we can stand up for ourselves, as we’re big enough to do so.
As for music, Obama sucks. Most good music is hatched during turbulent times. If he chills it all out (and what’s he on anyway?) we can expect more wussy bands like Coldplay and no rebels in the class of The Doors or The Clash. But, as I said, I don’t give a crap. BO is no JC, and there’ll still be many a fascist pulling the strings in Washington’s dark corridors. But I wish him the best — although I’ll still be evading those aging trannie pros in Asakusa and betting on three-legged donkeys.
Simon Bartz not only pens his JT columns, but he’s also the singer/songwriter in the defiantly underground band Yojinbo.
The night before the presidential election, Barack Obama went on “Monday Night Football” and sparked heated debates in the sports world by asking college football to scrap the Bowl Championship Series postseason system in favor of a playoff.
If Obama can spark such discussion about something so trivial, I can’t wait to see him tackle the real issues as mine and America’s next president. After all, he won the White House on a promise of change, and my hope is he makes a profound difference in the U.S. and delivers on that.
Hopefully, the changes he makes will force our leaders to think differently, even a bit outside of the box, to help lead the U.S. back into economic prosperity and the good graces of the world.
Obama’s election was a sign of how far America has come, but there is still plenty to be done. I believe the most important thing for him is to keep the nation moving forward domestically and internationally, winning back the trust and respect that was lost under Bush.
And if that involves shaking up college football as well as the Washington machine — well, that would sure be some touchdown.
Why do you think they call it hope? As a Massachusetts voter, last November I not only got to vote for my country’s first black president, I also got to vote on a proposition to decriminalize marijuana. Amazingly, both got the thumbs-up from the electorate. If I had a toke, no doubt I’d sense some cosmic linkage between the two — Barack Obama has, after all, owned up to trying ganja as a youth and inhaling. But the only thing we know he’s smoking these days is cigarettes (he’s off the wagon, again), and Massachusetts has always been a liberal exception to the rest of the States. (Gay marriage being another high-profile example.)
Perhaps the New England state will become one big antipuritan den of patchouli-smelling dope fiends, but I doubt it; the drug of choice in America these days ain’t dope but hope — and its No. 1 pusher is the president-elect. I’ll admit I’m hooked on it too. After eight years of the bad trip known as the Bush administration, is it any surprise we’ve allowed ourselves to wallow in hope’s soft caress, its blissful visions of a better future? Certainly, the high after Obama clinched the election was such that people ran wild in the streets in sheer joy, rather like those giddy munchkins singing “Ding Dong, the witch is dead!” Sure, the witch is dead; pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. (Could it be Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson?)
After every high is a comedown, though, and I suspect ours won’t be long coming. Weaning ourselves off this fantasy where anything is possible — Universal health care! Clean energy! No more partisan bickering! Pigs that fly! — will be a real bitch, as reality is infinitely less malleable. One can already sense the cold-turkey gripes regarding Obama’s choice of the pro-Iraq War Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, or his possible political ties to disgraced Chicago powerbrokers. Once we reconcile ourselves to the fact that Barack’s achievements may be more modest, incremental and compromised than our hope-induced visions, though, we’ll be able to appreciate mere competence, honesty and good intentions as a vast improvement over where we’re at now.
When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, she stuck a memo on her bathroom mirror. It read: “Not too much hope, not too much fear.” With Barak Obama’s presidency a month away, I feel the need for a similar reminder.
No, Obama is not a cancer: just the opposite. I believe he could be a cure for some of America’s greatest ills. The problem is, I’ve been disappointed by politicians for so long, I’m afraid to get my hopes up.
As a progressive, damn-the-status-quo environmentalist, my hope is that Obama will take dramatic steps toward adopting an energy agenda similar to that of America’s League of Conservation Voters (www.lcv.org): Move America to 100 percent clean-electricity generation, using solar, wind, geothermal and tidal power sources — whatever it takes; create millions of new, clean-energy jobs in these sectors, as well as through the construction of mass-transport networks throughout the nation; cut our dependence on oil, all oil, by half; and cut emissions of global-warming gases in the U.S. and worldwide by 80 percent.
My fear? That oil-, coal- and car-industry lobbyists — and the politicians who readily accept — for their dollars — will convince voters that the American Dream is being lost, not found; that Obama will agree to compromises too soon, and will heed the politics-first, progress-second pedigree of those of his newly appointed advisers who have served previous presidents.
As a reality check, I asked my 14-year-old son what he wants. His reply, “180-degree change: less cars, more public transport, higher taxes on the rich, support for the poor, and better relations with the Mideast.” Perhaps he needs a memo on his mirror, too. Stephen Hesse is a professor of law and environment policy at Chuo University, Tokyo.
There are many reasons why having the Obamas as First Family will make for an exciting administration, and one of them is Michelle, an emerging style icon for modern women. However, the comparisons between Michelle and Jackie O. are, to my mind, wide of the mark. The latter was prim in her (always expensive) ensembles, while Mrs. Obama pulls off a unique amalgam of style, something between Miss Thang and Ms. Daisy in her high- and low-brow wardrobe choices.
Colors such as canary yellow demand a confident poise, but it reflects Michelle in her personality as well as complementing her successful career. While she claims that her job in the White House is just to watch over her family, the fire-engine- red dress she donned for the Obamas’ first visit there proclaimed: “I am ready for action!” The dapper Mr. Obama, in his simple yet smart suits and well-worn heels, is surely a force to be reckoned with. And with Michelle by his side, we may see the making of a new type of First Lady, too. If her boldly smart fashion moves are any indication, then we have as much to look forward to in her and her husband’s political activities as in what snazzy dress she wears next.
It is crucial that President Obama address the mess left behind by Dubya, but without having his presidency defined by Bush’s follies. There is a risk that in the name of continuity, Obama may get sucked into persisting where he should be recalibrating — and nowhere is this more urgent than in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I expect that Asians will warm to Obama’s pragmatic and consultative approach to problem- solving, and that he will restore America’s tarnished stature in the region, reminding them that the U.S. is capable of much more than what they saw from a myopic war-president. Team Obama must act quickly to reassure allies that the U.S. will become more fully engaged in the region beyond security issues, and not allow its economic woes to spark trade rows.
Japanese leaders are wary about what the U.S. expects, and feel taken for granted; they need to take initiatives rather than grudgingly complying with U.S. demands by doing the minimum required. In hitting the reset button, Obama should put Indonesia — home to the world’s largest Muslim population and the third-largest democracy — at the top of his travel list.
I fear that the world may grow impatient for results and weary of change delayed because Obama has been saddled with Bush’s wretched legacy.
Jeff Kingston is Director of Asian Studies, Temple University, Japan Campus
C. W. NICOL
Don’t forget the North — it is vital that the new president also turn his mind and vision to the Arctic. America, Canada and Russia have long Arctic coastlines and rival histories of exploration and exploitation, all linked to the histories and hopes of nations such as Denmark, Norway and Britain. For centuries, explorers and whalers sought a passage through ice-jammed Arctic waters to link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
The ice is receding; in the not-so-distant future there will be Arctic sea routes between Asia, America, Russia and Europe. The energy, mineral and fisheries resources of the Far North will be much more easily exploited. There will be drastic changes for creatures such as polar bears, even more so for ringed seals, which rely on the ice cover to pup, and for traditional Arctic cultures reliant on ice for hunting and travel.
These dramatic changes will need understanding and co-operation, and the wisely shared use of knowledge and resources. President Obama will have a chance to peacefully unite all northern nations in this difficult, but immensely important endeavor. This old Arctic traveler wishes him all the understanding and luck he can get. C.W. Nicol MBE is a prolific author and broadcaster. He is a naturalist, conservationist and founder of the Afan Woodland Trust in Kurohime, Nagano Prefecture.
Since the end of World War II, Americans have prided themselves on how sincerely and selflessly they have aided and counseled people in other countries — in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. At the best of times, this aid and counsel have been humanitarian and generous; at the worst of times — and they have been many — meddling and destructive of property and life. Whether humanitarian or destructive, American power has invariably been accompanied by self-righteous preaching and magnanimous self-generated pats on their own American backs.
I hope that, as U.S. president, Barack Obama will put a much-needed and heavy lid over America’s holier-than-thou superiority complex and turn the nation’s attention to improving the lives of people who are poor and suffering in the U.S. and all over the world.
This is no time for prayer-drenched ideology. We’ve had that up to here! With the exercise of power should come humility, and respect for people who are not always like you. If the president can accomplish this, American power will not return as before; it’s too late for that; but American prestige will. And that may be good for all of us. Roger Pulvers is an author, playwright, translator and theater director, and is Head of the Center for the Study of World Civilizations at Tokyo Institute of Technology.
Can Obama save the floundering capitalist world from drowning in the cesspit of greed, corruption and money-obsessed covetousness over which a self-selected, twisted few have been cynically presiding while deluding themselves they are the anointed masters of all?
If I turn my eyes to the theater world, I see clearly there that a diversity of resources and ideas is the key factor in high-quality creation. Good theater can hardly ever be achieved through one person’s effort alone, however gifted, powerful or wealthy that person may be. By its nature as live performance, theater involves not only creators and actors but technicians, financiers and support staff, too — and, of course, the really crucial factor is the audience, without whose support all that effort is wasted.
I have seen many stage productions that were disasters despite having a talented director, or a superstar actor. That’s because when the focus is so ring-fenced, it creates a huge imbalance in the teamwork necessary to a successful enterprise.
So, just as a great stage production depends on creating the right balance of all those involved, together with a clear vision of the work and the confidence to realize it, I hope — above all else — that President Obama will not see himself (Bush- and Blair-like) as god’s gift, as some kind of superman who can himself save the world for one and all.
Rather, I hope he will regard himself as a great and compassionate facilitator — never forgetting that (as the Bard almost put it), all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women (including him) merely players. Nobuko Tanaka’s theater-based blog is at the stage.cocolog-nifty.com